When Matt Cain went on the disabled list Saturday, with a strained hamstring, it signaled the first time a pitcher from San Francisco Giants’s Opening Day rotation would miss a start in 2016. The Giants, however, did not—and have not—make clear who would fill in for Cain.
All signs appear to point toward Albert Suarez, the 26-year-old rookie long reliever who replaced Cain Friday night and tossed five innings, somewhat admirably, as it was a tough spot to come in early and contend with the Rockies lineup in Colorado.
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Manager Bruce Bochy suggested Suarez could be the temporary fifth starter, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Schulman tweeted Tuesday morning that it’s Suarez unless “he’s needed tonight,” and the Giants have not made a roster move with that “a ha, it’s that guy” quality to it. They called up Chris Stratton to fill Cain’s place on the roster, but the one-time promising prospect has been awful this year in Triple-A—posting a 6.02 ERA in nine starts—and he just pitched an inning of relief on Monday against Atlanta. Cain’s turn in the rotation comes up Wednesday, so Stratton is obviously out (if it wasn’t obvious already).
So all signs point to Suarez. (Unless he’s used Tuesday night.) And if it were going to be anyone other than Suarez, the Giants probably would have given some indication of that by now. But, in the event they decide to go with someone else, let’s take a look at who that might be.
The most obvious choice is Chris Heston, who pitched well as the Giants’ fifth starter in 2015 but has spent 2016 at Triple-A Sacramento. His 3.72 ERA doesn’t smack of domination, but in a hitter friendly league, where strike zones, defense and managerial oversight might not provide the same support—not to mention the psychological letdown for a 28-year-old to go from a full Major League season to the Minors—Heston appears to, at minimum, be pitching adequately.
The only other pitcher on the Giants’ higher minor league teams (i.e. Triple-A and Double-A) with any Major League experience is Ricky Romero, who at one time was a rising star with Toronto. But it’s been five years since Romero was an effective pitcher and subsequently went the way of Jonathan Sanchez and Rick Ankiel. (i.e. A promising lefty who disavowed his relationship with the strike zone.)
There are have been signs of life in Romero’s two Triple-A starts this season, but he is far from proving ready for another chance at the MLB level.
The other names to mention but immediately dismiss:
Joan Gregorio, 24, was lights out in Double-A. In three starts since being promoted to Triple-A, he’s yielded a 4.20 ERA, but the 1.13 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 15 innings (including 8 in each of his past two five-inning starts) indicates he is handling Triple-A batters pretty well.
Ty Blach, 25, has a 3.92 ERA in 10 Triple-A starts. He doesn’t strike out many batters and he allows a fair number of base runners, which makes him not such a great candidate.
Adalberto Mejia, 22, has impressive numbers at Double-A Richmond 1.87 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, .190 batting average against, and 48 strikeouts in 53 innings. He’s young, though, is pitching in a pitcher’s league, and probably needs to show he can gets outs against the more seasoned Triple-A hitters.
Tyler Beede, 23, is a valued prospect in the Giants minor league system—he was a first-round pick two years ago—but he has plenty to prove still in Double-A. The .303 batting average allowed is far from Major League-ready.
Clayton Blackburn, 23, spent a second on the big club earlier this season, but didn’t get into a game. He’s young, so he still could fulfill the potential that made him a top Giants prospect a couple years ago, but for now, he’s a mediocre Triple-A pitcher.
Kyle Crick, 23: what happened to this guy? Crick was the Giants’ top-rated prospect in 2014, but in 2016 he is toiling in Double-A. Hitters aren’t raking off him, as his .226 BAA indicates. But they just don’t swing the bat, they have a pretty good chance of getting on base: Crick is walking 5.2 batters per 9 innings. In contrast, Johnny Cueto is walking just 1.54 per 9.
Andrew Suarez, 23: Didn’t we already establish that A. Suarez is the likely fill-in for Cain? Yes, but this is a different A. Suarez. That one is Albert. This one is Andrew, who just got promoted from Single-A to Double-A a couple weeks ago. So, he’s not ready for the Majors, obviously. But he is worth keeping track of. A second-round pick last year, this younger Suarez has had mixed results in his three Richmond starts. He’ll be there for a little while, but he has a chance to be a fast riser.
It all comes back to Albert Suarez as the most likely fill-in, at least on Wednesday. But what if Cain misses more than two starts? How Albert Suarez performs in his spot start will determine whether he will remain the fill-in, or whether the Giants will want to turn to someone else, such as Heston.